Avonlea Traditions Inc. is a Canadian owned and operated company founded in 1988 and based in Newmarket, Ontario.
Avonlea’s first products were based on Canada’s storybook character, Anne of Green Gables. The company quickly secured a position as the world’s largest distributor of “Anne” products and began to develop several new theme-based collections, including a large range of award-winning porcelain and play dolls, stationery, antique replica doll furniture, and other fine collectibles and giftware.
In 2003, after more than a decade of research, Avonlea Traditions introduced the Maplelea Girls, a line of high quality, Canadian-themed 45 cm (18”) vinyl play dolls that are an inspiration to, and a reflection of, Canadian girls from coast to coast to coast. The Maplelea line has experienced rapid growth and has become the company's sole focus, with an ever-increasing range of products specially designed for girls aged 6 to 12+.
Though it was a bit of a risk developing a line of dolls for the comparatively small Canadian market, the overwhelming support from Canadian families helped us expand our line to include a vast range of dolls and accessories with new products being added all the time.
We take great pride in being a Canadian-based company. The development, design, sculpting, writing, illustration, translation, marketing, distribution and customer service of Maplelea products are all done in Canada. We’ve made special arrangements with several Canadian suppliers to manufacture specific pieces for our collection. For example, craftspeople in Nunavut make Saila’s Pang hat and Amazing Amauti for us according to their traditional designs. A Toronto factory makes our girl-size hoodies, and a family business by doing everything from growing the trees, right through to crafting the finished product. However, there are no vinyl doll factories in Canada, thus the assembly of our Canadian-designed products is mainly done at highly qualified, socially responsible factories in China.
Maplelea’s office is located in Newmarket, ON and it is from here that products are shipped across Canada, and around the world. From time to time, Maplelea will sell products through its own pop-up shops or events. However, Maplelea continues to offer Canadians and others the best prices possible for its exceptionally high quality line by selling direct to consumers from its website, rather than through other retailers. The only way to buy authentic Maplelea products is directly from us through our online store or mail order catalogue.
Some of the company’s recent awards include:
2016 Canadian Boating Safety Award (for using a toy line to promote water safety), Canadian Safe Boating Council
2016 Canada’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies, Canadian Business magazine
2015 W100: Canada’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs, Chatelaine magazine
2015 Canada’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies, Canadian Business magazine
2014 W100: Canada’s Top 100 Female Entrepreneurs, Chatelaine magazine
2014 Canada’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies, Canadian Business magazine
2013 Canada’s 500 Fastest Growing Companies, Canadian Business magazine
2012 Best Pick: New Products, Dr. Toy (for Maplelea Girl doll, Saila)
2012 Children’s Choice Award, Canadian Toy Testing Association (for Maplelea Girl doll, Saila)
The Making of Maplelea
Always proud of her Canadian heritage, Kathryn Gallagher Morton, noticed there were a lack of playthings that reflected our county’s unique heritage, culture and geography. After she started her business, Avonlea Traditions Inc., and saw the significant demand for Anne of Green Gables products, she knew that other Canadians also wanted products that reflected our national identity.
As a mother with young children, Kathryn always thought carefully about the playthings she brought into her home. She was disappointed with the increasing number of diva-style dolls on the market that emphasized body image, dating and glamour. “Childhood is short enough; children should not wish it away, longing for the day they are older.”
That, combined with her concern that her children were being presented primarily with American icons and media, propelled her to create a line of Canadian-themed play dolls.
She named it Maplelea.
Determined to make the line of dolls the highest quality possible, and to have it accurately tell our country’s story, she spent the 1990s researching and designing. Between 2000 and 2003, intensive work was done to bring the idea to life.
In addition to being age-appropriate and Canadian, Kathryn wanted the dolls to have an educational aspect to them. Four characters were developed, each with a unique story to tell. There was one from the Rockies (Taryn, Alberta), one from the prairies (Brianne, Manitoba), one from a big city (Alexi, Toronto), and one from a coastal community (Jenna, Nova Scotia).
Focus groups were held with girls, parents and community members to get ideas and feedback about the products and characters she was creating.
A Canadian sculptor was hired to create the original clay sculpture of the head, arms, and legs. The first face mould was based on a girl from Aurora, Ontario.
Canadian writers living in the four areas of Canada from which the characters hailed were hired to weave the ideas into a colourful, interesting, locally accurate storyline for the story journals that would accompany each doll.
A unique art and fashion style were developed for each Maplelea Girl. In addition to the dolls, a starter outfit, wardrobe and accessories were created to reflect each character’s interests and lifestyle in the part of Canada she called home.
The Maplelea Girls made their debut at the Canadian Toy Fair in 2003. In 2005, Maplelea produced a catalogue to be mailed out with Chickadee magazine. As soon as the catalogue began arriving in homes across Canada, doll sales began to surge.
The first four characters were a huge success and so Kathryn invited members of the public to suggest who the next Maplelea Girl should be. Letters, emails and drawings poured in. They came from girls, from parents, from educators and from community members across the country, each suggesting a wide range of locations, interests and characteristics. After sorting through the huge number of responses, two themes began to emerge — Canadians wanted a character who spoke French and they wanted a character from up North.
In 2008 Léonie from Quebec was added and in 2011 Saila from Nunavut was introduced.
The creating of Saila was indicative of the amount of research Maplelea puts into developing their products. During the two-year span of creating Saila, Kathryn did considerable research, attended an Inuit awareness seminar and met with cultural experts. She and her family also travelled to Nunavut to experience the culture first hand and to meet local families and community members. She especially enjoyed chatting to girls of Maplelea age who were able to tell her all about their lives in Canada’s North. The result was a doll and story journal that were not only fun, but so culturally accurate that the Nunavut Department of Education purchased enough Saila dolls to place one in every childcare program in the Territory.
Requests for new characters continued to pour in, so many, in fact, that Maplelea knew they needed to put character creation in the hands of Canadians themselves. The Maplelea Friends is a wide range of dolls with different hair, eye and skin colours which use a variety of face moulds. Each comes with a blank journal filled with questions, prompts and blanks to assist the writer in creating their own character. Some choose to create a character that reflects their own family’s story. Others choose to simply create a unique character of their choice.
Every story journal, with both Maplelea Girls and Maplelea Friends, continues to provide an additional section for the child to tell their own story. A wide variety of outfits, pets, sports gear and other accessories is offered to help continue and personalize the story of all Maplelea dolls. With the introduction of Charlsea from the Gulf Islands of BC in August 2015, Maplelea has continued to offer new characters.Read about the Making of Charlsea here.
Looking to the future
Moving forward, Kathryn’s plan is to introduce a new Maplelea Girl character every few years to further tell Canada’s story. These characters will vary in terms of heritage, ethnicity, family composition, home province/territory, personality, and interests. Every detail, from the character’s heritage and interests to the design of the starter outfit, takes a considerable amount of time. Just as a real girl’s childhood should not be rushed, Kathryn feels there’s magic in taking the time to get things just right before a new doll is introduced. Watch for exciting developments in the future!